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Multi-player card game for up to 10 (!) on gold mining by the inventor of Gouda! Gouda!. Sabotage is attempted by the one or more players who have been dealt saboteur cards. They will receive a fixed number of points if the expedition doesn't find gold and honest miners will get nothing. Otherwise, players will draft gold cards, starting with the player who reached the gold and continuing counter-clockwise. Cards come in two basic types: "take thats" and cards used to construct (rarely, destroy) mining tunnels on the map. It's difficult to reach gold as it can only be found in one of three locations and only those who draw a map card may peek and have a chance of finding out. The actions of such a player are closely scrutinized thereafter, even though it can be difficult to divine what they mean. The practical import of this scrutiny is to know which player to hit with a card so that he can't affect the map or rescue an already hit ally so that he can. This seems to work sporadically: a saboteur may try to lead players to the wrong goal (fortunately they are not widely separated), but on the other hand an honest miner just
might not have the cards or information he needs to advance his cause. The same twenty minute game is played three times over to proved the eventual winner. Somehow it seems this could have been made more interesting by saving more context than just the scores. Playing with more than about seven can seem slow and rather random as one gets very few cards. Randomness is already too prevalent as the map and fall-in cards are rather crucial. The feeling is one of good fundamentals inadequately realized. With Shadows Over Camelot appearing around the same time, there seems to be a zeitgeist of hidden traitor games. This could be considered a lighter version, but it is much less rich and thematic. [Holiday List 2004] [6-player Games]
LLHL7 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7)
Frederic Moyersoen; Amigo/Z-Man Games; 2004; 3-10; 8+
Safari Jack
Interesting system in which players lay cards to build the world as it goes along. Although fun and challenging, a bit too subject to luck of the draw to bear many repeat playings. Features a reference to "Reiner" (Knizia?).
Safe Return Doubtful
Very atmospheric game simulating expeditions to the North Pole. Based on cards, the game disappointingly lacks a map, even though progress toward the goal is recorded. Although there are some fascinating features including the possibility of floating home on an iceberg (which actually happened to one expedition as detailed in the excellent game notes), the game is rather too unforgiving to earn frequent replays, unless perhaps in solitaire format. [Simulations Workshop]
Safeknacker, Die
Very accessible and cute mechanism Stefan Dorra card game about building gangs and cracking safes. Simple rules, but a lot of thought needed to win. It's one of those slightly weird games where at first everyone thinks, "is this a game at all?" But after a while, or maybe after the first game, only then does it become clear how the thing hangs together. This is a good vehicle for surprising your gaming group. Probably not quite as popular as the inventor's near classic For Sale, but apparently rarer, certainly in the USA. Possible different strategies are to try to get included in others' gangs or to work more to create one's own. A good ability to look ahead is rewarded. Title means "safe cracker". Buccaneer is the revised version and should we be surprised at the theme change in the wake of two very successful Pirates of the Caribbean films? The old theme was far more refreshing, however. A few features have been added such as the pirates only labeled with a question mark. This gives them a variable worth which depends on which prize ship they are being used to take. Also added is a set collection sub-game built on treasure chits taken when a prize is. The big points here are for controlling the majority of a type. There also is now a maximum stacking limit for pirates and a rule permitting players with tokens in a stack to "mutiny" which forces the captain to take a prize. All of the additions work well and the only issue between versions is whether one prefers a spare, elegant system or one with more flavor, but also more rules to remember. In this sense neither outdoes the other, but I certainly preferred the rarer safecracking theme.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
Stefan Dorra;
Sagaland (Enchanted Forest)
The fourth winner of the Spiel des Jahres (German game of the year award) was rather a departure as it was rather more a children's game than the previous winners, and more than the subsequent as well. On the other hand, a look through the other popular games of that year and previous didn't reveal any better choice for this award; the jury seems to have made the best decision available to it at the time. The game features a number of often tricky paths through a forest, terminating in a castle. Randomly distributed about are trees, under each of which is printed a different illustration of an item from a fairy tale, e.g. the talking mirror, the glass slipper* and so on. Players roll a pair of dice, but in an improvement over the usual roll-and-move scheme, may not only add the dice together, but may also subtract one from another or just use one. The goals are to get to (1) a tree by exact count which permits examining its item, (2) to get to the castle which permits identifying which tree holds the currently sought item (represented by an upturned card) lies and/or (3) to land on another's pawn, sending it back to the start. Rolling doubles permits teleportation to a vacant tree, the castle gate or already within the gate, to the castle itself. Or it can be used to change which item is currently being sought. The first to locate three items wins. The older style graphics still appeal and the plastic trees are satisfyingly solid pine pyramids. With benefit of hindsight, the startgame is a little flawed; too much time is wasted with players sending one another back to the start, especially when the player count is large. Later on there is some decisionmaking. How many trees do you want to examine before just going for the guess, especially considering that even if you don't know the answer to the current question, someone might guess it or change it before you can arrive. Movement provides other questions, such as how close do you want to stand to others who might land on you and send you back. This becomes particularly acute in the very popular circle that runs around the castle. Then there is the memory element. While this is useful for children learning to exercise their memories, it can end up just an irritant for adults. This coculd be solved if each had cubes that could mark which trees they had been seen. At the end of the day this is probably best confined to the kids room. [Spiel des Jahres Winner] [6-player Games]
MMMM5 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5)
Alex Randolph & Michael Matschoss; Ravensburger-1981; 2-6; 8+ [Buy it at Amazon]

*(The glass slipper was originally not glass. In the French version of the tale the slippers were made of "vair", a French and also rare English word meaning squirrel fur. When the story came to England and people heard "slippers of vair" they must have thought they heard "verre", the French word meaning cup or glass. Aha, it means glass slippers they erroneously concluded. This idea got so popular that it spread all over, even though glass slippers are a preposterous idea for dancing at a ball.)
if no image probably out of print
Here's a game which was apparently first set in northern Britain, but has ended up in the heart of 16th century Spain. Once again the brilliant Stefan Dorra has come up with a group of innovative ideas. Players seem to represent the yuppies of their era, buying properties, developing them and then selling them off in this game of making as much money as you can. It's how all this happens that is unusual. Each round a few tiles are turned up. Then there is an unusual auction in which players take turns revealing a single card from their hands. The tricky parts are (1) each of these must differ in value; (2) the card used is added to the hand of the next player and (3) the turn goes from high card to low (range 1-8), unless a 5 was played in which case it goes first; and (4) the player of the low card gets an extra action. Thus, without actual negotiation occurring, as in Njet!, this generally allows each player gets something wanted. Generally each gets just one action which keeps turns fairly short. What players are doing on the square grid board is taking over a central building such as a castle, monastery or farm and then surrounding them with orthogonally-connected fields, lakes and forests (which conveniently share the same color). Each such added, and they don't have to be directly connected but may be chained together, adds value to the estate. But the danger is that they may also become part of someone else's estate. At this point it may be a good idea to sell as a sale removes all of the more valuable properties if any of these are present. Not only does this remove the value of these, but it may also remove the connectivity with other assets. Meanwhile each player also has a creature called a Conde, a piece that can buy its way into any player's property. When a sale occurs, this parasitical person also earns a profit, though not as large a one as the owner. Besides purchases and Condes, the third action is to afflict a tile as indicated on the card. This tend to break connectivity or destroy value of a tile or both. These afflictions can be gotten rid of, but it takes time and the right cards. It's often difficult to decide when one needs a capable hand and when to start using it up. There are also challenges around the geography of the grid, what and where are the best ways to make connections, and also blocks. The board changes its state fairly often so new opportunities and situations appear all the time. How to play well tends to be opaque at first, but it appears to be very much about keeping a capable hand, playing the odds about what will appear and accurately reading opponent intentions. Thematically one is supposed to be contending for the position of Duke of Salamanca, but this is perhaps the weakest element as all the player really feels is "more money, more money". The publisher may be at fault here. On the other hand, the artwork is clear and attractively realized, even if the wooden pieces are nothing special. Screens obscure player monetary holdings which are theoretically memorizable. Of course they can be dispensed with if players wish. English language instructions are in the box and a better version appears to be available at the publisher's website.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7
Stefan Dorra; Zoch Verlag; 2006; 2-5
Card game of saloon brawling is the second in this publisher's year of Old West games. It follows the model of Nuclear War and given that the topic is personal fisticuffs, even more particularly, that of Lunch Money. Here too the acting player reveals an attack card and his opponent a defense. The first uninvolved player to get a gray card to the table can also participate. But being historical and cartoonish, the mood is much lighter and, more importantly, the card variety, many of which "break" the usual rules, is much higher. It would have been nice if more had been done to convert the card texts to pictures as there is considerable difficulty for English-only players. They will be forced to follow along with a translation sheet. Another problem is that it is possible, although rare, for a player to be knocked into "Dreamland" before he's even had a chance to do anything. The main strategy is probably in deciding when a card is unnecessary and that it's time to discard it. Try to always have at least one good attack and one good defense. It won't hurt to save up the good cards and not appear to be the leader either. Card graphics are clean, cartoonish fun, including the Doktor, drawn to resemble Dr. Reiner Knizia. There seem to be some coloring errors as the Stuhl (chair) cards are colored as Events, but ought to be Items while there are four Events which have been mis-colored as items: Barkeeper, Doktor, Piano-Spieler and Tisch. Generously supports up to six players. If the language issues can be solved, a nice, short outing while you start your beer and await dinner. [Take That! Card Games] [Krimsus]
A re-packaging (new graphics) of the second version of Bazaar although now players have more freedom of movement. Wheel and deal to buy the greatest share of goods in the bazaar and become the wealthiest merchant. The best realization of the Bazaar system although the vanilla game is a bit dissatisfying. The simple and elegant Isfahan expansion kit (German and pictures) makes the game more strategic, tactical and realistic. Because the players are working with the game system as much as the other players, is the rare multi-player game which also works well enough for two, again, especially with the Isfahan expansion kit. Strategically, it is best to travel with the caravan as isolated merchants are unable to take advantage of filled nomad camps. One production complaint: because the rules require that the jewel cards be re-shuffled whenever any are turned in, they would have been far better represented by plastic jewels pulled from a bag, as was the case for games like Basari and Silberzwerg. [Silk Road Games] [Traveling Merchant Games]
Samarkand: Routes to Riches (Samarkand: Karawane zum Reichtum )
if no image probably out of print
In 400 AD players extend trade routes through the Middle East and Central Asia. This is a re-development of Age of Schemes (2008). In this era, trade was a journey, not a railroad or highway. How then to explain that here the main activity is making tracks? Because it's a railroad game masquerading as something else. Nations like Egypt or the Huns stand in for companies. Marriage alliances stand in for owning shares. The map shows the entire Middle East divided up into a great many irregular regions, most of which do not appear to have any historical meaning. Players begin with nothing but a bit of funding. They first take turns paying an already-determined amount – depending on the nation's strategic location and relative position to others – to acquire one of the nation's two shares and this money goes to the nation. On subsequent turns, an investing ("married in") player uses this money to place camel pieces on the board that form trade routes. Placement has two objectives: connecting to caravans of other nations which pays the player who does it (and to a lesser extent the owners of the nations) and reaching objective tiles matching one's hand cards. The latter is an odd situation. Unlike the similar Santa Fe Rails, one gets cards after deciding which nation to buy into, i.e. exactly too late to make the purchase wisely. While it's true that one can discard and there is a maximum hand limit this is an oddly luck-filled system in an otherwise logical affair. Joining nations and securing these tiles constitute the two strategic paths. Duration is all right for this short affair, though, and production very attractively realized with wooden camels and large cardboard nation tiles and coin pieces. The only niggle in very attractive artwork is that the objective tiles are identical to what's printed beneath them which sometimes makes it hard to tell if the thing has been taken yet or not; it can also be annoyingly long to set up. Tactically, there are some tricky plays one can try, e.g. starting with a centrally-located nation and using it to rapidly connect to everything in sight, which will end play after just twenty minutes and possibly catch a lot of opponents napping. There's also the curious rule that caravans cannot meet in a water space. This means that you should approach other caravans from the water so that you can be the one who makes the join on them while they will not be able to do the same to you first. While thematically this just isn't there – though it is nice seeing evocative names like Huns, Levant, Persia, China, Egypt all on one map and the product tiles appear to be historical – it might be a decent bridge between railroad game fans and those who don't normally care for them. [Silk Road Games] [6-player Games]
MLHM6 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6)
David V.H. Peters & Harry Wu; Queen Games-2010; 2-5 [Buy it at Amazon]
Samurai (Reiner Knizia's Samurai)
Another of Knizia's tile-laying games. This seems to be the one that most sacrifices strategy for pure opportunism. Much of the game seems to be in delay avoiding any placement that lets your opponent make the decisive strike. Perhaps this is supposed to tie into the tactics of the time and place depicted. At least it is one of the few that will work well for three sometimes it even seems intended for three. I am not a big fan of the hidden victory point holdings in this one, particularly as the very unusual scoring method can have a player think he is helping himself when actually he is giving it away. Strategically I like to start with at least one or two water tiles so as to be able to "churn" the hand if necessary. It might not be a bad idea to start with the horse tile as well in case the situation arises.
San Francisco
Auction-oriented game to take over plots of land after the 1906 earthquake. Requires twelve pages of rules to explain, but features an interesting series of three different types of auctions. There's an "outguess your opponents" method à la Basari, a Raj-like method using the identical cards everyone holds, and a money auction that goes round and round with no one able to pick up cards (for example to make change) except to fold. Although there is a nice use of icons to avoid language barriers on the cards, it probably takes at least one play to get used to the graphic design. Also reminiscent of Colorado County with the shared element being auctions for the right to place something on the board and to The Merchants of Amsterdam since the nature of the auction is random each turn, with the player having some limited control over it. Strategically, a conservative approach does not pay off as gaining placements on the board is key. Rather, it is important to place a rod on the board early (preferably building up an area near a park) and then bid aggressively whenever an oppotunity to build on this presents itself. Overall a good romp with a nice uncertain ending feature, especially for players who enjoy the chaotic auction mechanisms. Seems to play best using a variant from a German website: omitting the rule stating that a new action card is drawn when an action card generates completion of another block allows the game to take a more strategic shape.
San Juan
Card game version of Puerto Rico supports two to four players. The key difference from its big brother is that no longer are all the buildings laid out and available. Instead, roles like the Trader, Mayor and Prospector generate drawn hand cards which depict buildings. When the Builder is chosen, one may be built by discarding one card per point of cost. The Overseer still causes goods to be produced and Silver Mining has been added, squeezing out Corn. The Trader's prices change randomly by rotating through a set of cards and players' sales no longer affect one another. The Captain is gone, but a number of new buildings have been added with a wide variety of special effects. Players will enjoy trying out each and making up their own minds whether each is worthwhile. The game ends when a player finishes a fixed number of buildings, the win going to the victory points maximizer. As should be apparent, this is considerably less scientific than the original. Whereas before you could choose which strategy you would like to try, now the strategy must choose you, and too bad if the rest of the cards you need never appear. It's not clear how possible it is to catch up to a big lead either. But the disappointment of master strategists will be the delight of those in favor of a less analytical endeavor where luck plays a leveling role. Hand management is a useful skill, however. It plays quickly and most will probably want to at least several times before they're through. Early strategic thoughts: an early Bibliothek/Library rarely seems to lose a two-player contest – probably it should have had a higher cost for this configuration. But try to counter it with a Schwarzmarkt/Black Market approach. For three, an early Schmiede/Smithy followed by a slow build up of Zucker/Sugar, Tabak/Tobacco, Kaffee/Coffee and lots of Selber/Silver with admixture of Aquädukt/Aqueduct and Schwarzmarkt/Black Market and topped off by the Zunfthalle/Guild Hall seems very hard to stop. Watch out for kingmaking in multi-player contests, especially players who build a lot of cheap buildings fast, ending the game even though they don't have the points to win. Like the Gilbert & Sullivan musical The Mikado which was much more about Britain than it's supposed topic, Imperial Japan, some items here, like the victory column (a prominent one stands in Berlin) and triumphal arch, have a lot more to do with German history than Puerto Rican. Expanded by Treasure Chest. [Frequently Played] [Holiday List 2004]
Strategy: High; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7
Andreas Seyfarth; Alea; 2004; 2-4
[Buy it at Amazon]
San Marco
Alan Moon effort, one of several 2001 season games set in Renaissance Venice, has echoes of his previous works Andromeda and Wongar. There is also a hint of El Grande (El Canal Grande?) with the Doge playing the role analogous to the king, but the unique feature and center of interest is in one player dividing up eight action and negative point cards into two piles and the other deciding which pile he prefers. Can be interesting to decide between making the two piles most nearly equivalent or to try an unbalanced set where one has a great deal benefit, but also most of the pain. Despite its apparently balanced nature, there is considerable luck as well, not including that also introduced by the roll of the die for banishment. Bridges add some special considerations. An attractive and interesting entry to the "region influence" class. Games of the Italian Renaissance]
Alan R. Moon
Santa Fe
It's controversial whether this is a railroad game or not, but it does have some "building rails from east to west" feeling as well as being a challenging exercise. For the most part, the skill is one of lookahead to see how things will fall out with the other players, as well as a good amount of luck depending on what cards are drawn. There is a lot of difficult decisionmaking in measuring opportunities, thinking about percentages, and trying to guess opponents' intentions. Re-made twice in the same year, once as Santa Fe Rails (below) and once as Clippers. The concept for this Alan Moon design comes originally from Wolfgang Kramer's Wildlife Adventure. [Italian Rails]
Alan R. Moon
Santa Fe Rails
The re-make of Santa Fe incorporates some of the ideas found in Clippers such as the 3X and the 4X card. Also, some of the eastern routes have grown directional arrows, the general effect being to prevent some of the un-thematic circular building that used to be pandemic, but it is still possible out west, it being only partly allayed by extra bonuses for certain lines to reach particular cities like Portland and LA. The Engineer has been eliminated, which is no loss as it had little effect in any case. The old version often seemed to boil down to a victory for whoever could draw the most high point cards – this seems less the case now, partly because there are far fewer destinations played in the first place and partly because of the new building options and bonuses. What emerges is a game of delicate planning, but limited control, with some influence of chaos. On the whole, it is more of a strategic game than its predecessor, but not as "fair" as Clippers. It has perhaps less luck than Expedition, but does have more to ponder. There is plenty wrong with the communications design: the aforementioned arrows are much too small to be discerned easily; the special cards ought to be more informative; one of them contains an error; the rule for which cards may be drafted in combination seems much too arbitrary and inelegant, especially when not detailed on a player aide.
Alan R. Moon
Game of auctions and irrigation on the Cape Verde island first visited by Portuguese in 1462 where perhaps the first tropical European city was established. In most property development exercises players bid on plots of land, but here it is for crop tiles which can go in any vacant space. Bidding is of that annoying, that is, challenging, kind practiced by New England, i.e. a bid need not go higher, only be unique. While the high bidders get the best tiles and plots, the lowest is in charge of the all-important canal digging on this arid island. He may accept payment from any one player or outpay them all to place the latest canal extension as he sees fit. There is cooperation as well as competition in this as a canal inevitably waters others' fields as well. The same applies for final scoring which depends on one's presence in contiguous groups of like fields. Leftover cash counts in scoring as well in order to hinder overanalysis. Claudia Hely's (no relation as far as I know) and Roman Pelek's simple auction-based system satisfies without bowling over. Production, except for the flimsy cash (escudoes) is attractively realized. Most of the skill is either tactical – figuring out the best placements – or intuitional – divining what others will do and how much they will pay. Not that many players seem good at both so this should be a challenge for most. One minor suggestion is to avoid the player on your left amassing too many points else you may well be blackmailed into making heavy canal payments to stop him. [Italian Rails]
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Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas
This game comes from a relatively new Italian company who with titles like this,
Florenza, Arté and Caligula seems to be specializing in games about Italian art, culture and history. Probably one finds them in museum shops there.
This one is named after the Roman Sator square (at right) in which each row and column forms a word which connects to the idea of the board representing a medieval library designed like a labyrinth where the walkways can be shifted using gears and pulleys. As shall be seen it might have worked as well or better as people trying to cross the oft-flooded main square of Venice for this is sort of a racing Tetris. Pieces shaped similar to those of that game are placed on a large grid for player pawns to travel and retrieve rare books. The geography of the map is of supreme importance and in the walking over path ways is initially reminiscent of Dragon Delta, but here turns are individual rather than simultaneous. So a turn usually consists of trying to figure out how to reach a book or at least configure the board so as to give the possibility of reaching one on the next turn. In the interval of course, opponents are likely to disrupt that considerably, one reason three players is probably the optimal maximum. Each player has a hand of cards, each of which gives some special ability. The movement mechanism is unusual in that the number of spaces one can move depends on the number of cards played which come out of a player's six actions, each card costing a varying number of actions. This leads to the desire to just play cards so as to be able to move further which leads to moving or rotating pieces which are otherwise of no interest. Effective players find ways to use these moves to maximize disruption of others' plans. This game is probably more challenging than it sounds. Figuring out how things can be moved to achieve a goal without actually playing with the pieces to see how to do it – undesireable because it may be difficult to properly restore – requires a lot of visualization as does the task of arranging items in such a way as to limit disruptions by others. These are worthy, mind-stretching activities, unless the difficulty is high enough to actually discourage the fun. It's also mainly a tactical rather than a strategic exercise.
LMHL6 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6)
Mito Pesce & Federica Rinaldi; Post ScriptumScribabs-2008; 2-4; 60 [Shop]
Säulen der Erde, Die (Pillars of the Earth)
Multi-player game of allocation and processing connected with the construction of a medieval English cathedral based on the thousand page Ken Follett novel, Pillars of the Earth. Compared to others, this one feels like the child of two other games. Richard Breese's Keydom/Morgenland/Aladdin's Dragons is one of them in that players take turns allocating tokens to various board positions, each of which confers a different ability. These are then resolved in a known order. It departs somewhat from Breese by making the allocation order random and charging a fee for the first, presumably most valuable, seven selections. This part of game can be maddeningly frustrating as players can see others choose all of the items they may have wanted while they are unable to do anything about it. For this amount of randomness overall duration is actuall too long. The game's other parent seems to be Cosmic Encounter as there are various special power cards purchased during the game. These mostly involve processing stone, wood, sand and metal to generate either victory points or money (though I enjoy the structural engineer card that provides benefits simply by thinking). One surprising rule is that there are limits to the amount of money a player can hold at one time, the track topping out at thirty. It's an interesting design decision too that the usual, intuitive way to handle money – tangible monetary tokens – is replaced with a track which makes everyone's total quite apparent, as are the victory points. There appear to be several approaches to winning, though it's unclear whether all are equally viable. Time and collective experience will tell. Production is very attractive and communication design very good, though the amount of text on the cards necessitates getting an edition in a language all players can read. The turns of the game are marked using wooden blocks to construct a model of a cathedral, which seems gratuitous and unnecessary, and the resulting cathedral doesn't look that great anyway. Having read the novel, it's very nice seeing the character names on the cards, and having illustrations of them, though their effects don't appear to correspond all that closely to their functions in the book. This is all okay for those who are into gamer's games à la Puerto Rico, but is not for the novice. At the time of this writing, I am surprised to see some suggesting it as a Spiel des Jahres winner, though there is little doubt it will do well in the Deutscher Spiele Preis. [6-player Games]
Strategy: High; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 6 [Buy it at]
Säulen der Erde Erweiterung, Die (The Pillars of the Earth Expansion Set)
This is the second of two expansion kits (so far) the first being a few craftsman cards printed in Spielbox magazine (Gardener, Market Warden, Gold- and Tin-smiths, Day Laborer, Beggar), all of which have been picked up for this publication. But the function of this one goes further, not only adding capacity for a fifth or even sixth player, but more signficantly providing even more craftsman cards (Tilemaker, Painter, Woodcarver, Brickmaker, Stonecutter and Apprentice) as well as rules guaranteeing that only a subset of them appear during play. In addition to new pieces (in orange and white), ten more prestige cards, another gravel pit card and 4 more event cards, there is a new, smaller map which is placed to the left of the existing one. Showing the continent, it appears that this map must be upside-down in the sense that the words on it are printed as if the viewer is looking from the north rather than the south. (Such maps are unusual in modern times, but usefully challenge customary thinking. But more likely the possibility of such expansion wasn't considered in the original artistic design). In any case, the sequence of resolving master builder activities departs from the main map at 9 to then apply 9a, 9b, 9c, etc. until all sites on the new board have been visited, then resumes at 10 back on the original. Besides finally offering an on-board place to store the metal, this new board offers several new possibilities: tax collector, four crusades slots for workers (which grant victory points), a chance to emulate another player's craftsman, an external market and an additional privilege card. The mantra in creating the expansion appears to have been consistency for the experience of adding the new board is for the most part just like the original, even with six players. The amount of competition for master builder slots and even for resources feels just the same. The only area where there is a letdown and things don't seem quite fair is in craftsman hiring where it's possible for some players to be consistently locked out of the opportunity because they are so far down in the turn order. If such players are unlucky in the master builder draw, it can be that they're unable to do anything about the situation either. The other issue to consider is that already the game can be overlong for the amount of inherent randomness. Adding two more players only makes that problem worse. Adding players, then, is not a good reason to get this expansion; the fact that you're playing the original game all the time and need the variety that the new craftsman and their variable appearance provide is. By the way, as it turned out, the original game did win Deutscher Spiele Preis, but not the Spiel des Jahres (having been beaten by Zooloretto). It was not even on the short list.
Strategy: High; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 6
Michael Rieneck & Stefan Stadler; Kosmos/Mayfair; 2007; 3-6 [Buy it at]
Savannah Café
Racing game for children 7 and up, but also of at least some interest for players older than that. The competitors are lions, antelope and hippopotami, racing not for survival, but to be the first to reach the bar and sip a cool one. Antelope usually graze, but can sometimes leap 9 spaces forward. Lions can move about half that distance and send back an antelope if they catch one, but if a slow-moving hippo roars, they have to move back up to 8 spaces. Players each hold three cards whose backs show which animal they move. On a turn they either draw a fourth and play one of them or steal a card from someone else who then gets the deck card. Clearly there is a large influence of luck, but players can also help their own causes by hoarding and by making intelligent guesses about what opponents' cards and intentions must be. Artwork and round wooden counters are nicely realized. Probably not as much fun as Igel Ärgern, but a possible, and shorter, alternative. [Holiday List 2002]
Savannah Tails
It's not entirely the publisher's fault, but between Powerboats, Fast Flowing Forest Fellers and their own Snow Tails of last year there has been quite an onslaught of racing games lately. This is a very special genre and as such is easily capable of being oversaturated, from both the marketplace and the playing perspectives. Of course for those who love it that's the only sort of game they play. Like its predecessor, this ostrich racing affair is a descendant of Ave Caesar, and this time the apple has fallen even closer to the tree. You have a hand of cards; you play one, move that number of spaces, then draw a new one. Divergences from this are that there are always four lanes, maintaining the same color throughout the course. Cards come in these same colors and it is into this lane that the ostrich must move. If it can spend the entire turn in this color it may move substantially more, especially if it is well back of the pack (a catch-up mechanism). Each course features three water holes. Running through one of them permits activation of one of a player's three special double-sided advantage cards which permit things like jumping over others, a larger hand size, re-using the last card played, etc. Other local flavor includes cheetahs, lions, warthogs and the like, each of which presents a different kind of challenge to negotiatie. There are also one lane bridges and an interesting hillslope which must be surmounted in one go lest the player fall backwards to the start of the track section. Of these there are twenty-five, plus there is a bonus one called Pachyderm Passage which is fun if you can lay hands on it, but not all necessary. The tracks are well done around the tricky curves and it is in these areas that the game is usually won (or lost). Unfortunately the animal icons should have been drawn or colored more distinctly. The ostriches are wooden pawns. Card illustrations are well done, though the special cards are somewhat difficult to decipher. Overall this is simpler to manage than Snow Tails and finishes more quickly, perhaps half an hour per race. It can still has some of the problems found in Ave Caesar such as blocking and not being able to have the card one wants. It must be admitted that for the true racing fan both of the above objections are probably rather features. The remaining question is whether with so many such games out lately you're all raced out.
MMHM6 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6)
Fraser & Gordon Lamont; Fragor Games; 2009 2-5; 8+
Scarab Lords
if no image probably out of print
Proving that you can't go to the well (or Nile) too often, once again Reiner Knizia makes a return to ancient Egypt for this two-player affair. Reminiscent of collectible card games as well as his own Blue Moon (which actually only appeared two years later), it's a power struggle between the red and the blue following the death of the "Dark Pharaoh". Not an ordinary pharaoh, notice, as the publisher scrambles to make this appeal to their regular fantasy buyers. Actually the thematic terms – gods, minions, leaders – tend to be a drag rather than an aid to understanding; it's just more to learn without adding any useful analogs. Play itself is demarcated by a narrow board dividing the players which is itself divided into two regions, each of which have military, religious and economic subsections. Having greater strength in two areas of each region gives instant victory, but the more common ending is probably that one player's deck is exhausted. Dominance of each sector gives a different advantage: military forces an opponent discard; religious curses an opposing card, rendering it inoperative; economic permits drawing a new card. Cards themselves are classified, in addition to the above categories, by the phase in which they can be played: 0, 1 or 2, plus event-style cards. While an unlimited number of "0" cards can be played each turn, only one "1" and one "2" ar permitted. But there are hardly any "0" cards so often one has a turn without much to do. This is somewhat mitigated by the ability to re-activate already played cards. The most powerful cards stipulate that they arrive with a curse token on them; effectively they are slow to arrive, delayed until a card removing tokens can be played. As cards come out of one's deck randomly – sometimes being discarded directly from there – luck is a large factor. On the other hand, duration is fairly short, so even a playing which doesn't go well is quickly over (sort of like this review). Curse tokens are of glossy cardboard while dominance is indicated by six small plastic pyramids (undecorated). An extra set of cards enables an advanced version (untried). As the years following the introduction of the collectible card game roll by, it has become apparent that the appeals of this form are all its own. Those enjoying the form may also like this "lite" form if they prefer more control on which cards are included and eliminatino of the collectibility aspect. But as one of the form's appeals is card artwork – which is plenty attractive here – it's a bit of a shame that the cards are so small. Larger ones would have permitted the art to shine through more. The audience here probably does not extend far outside CCG fans interested in topics outside straight fantasy. Decks from the subsequent Minotaur Lords can also be used to play this one. [Ancient Egypt games]
Reiner Knizia; Fantasy Flight; 2002; 2
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6 [Buy it at Amazon]
Word game based on Facts in Five. In this simplified version, players have limited time to come up with words starting with a randomly-chosen letter in ten given categories. This will always remain a party game without a more definitive way of adjudicating near-miss cases. [Party Games] [Buy it at Amazon]
Scene It: Disney Edition
Either it's a DVD with trivia board game or a Disney informercial, I'm not sure which. I don know that there is a board and four unpainted metal figures resembling Goofy, Mickey, etc. There is a track along which figures move and two oversized dice, one determining progress, the other, the type of question. Some of these come from cards, but what happens most often and is the most fun, is to answer a question presented from the DVD. Questions generally involve a still or scene from a Disney film, recent or old, animated or live action. Sometimes the answer can be discerned by carefully watching and listening to a clip; others depend on one having "seen it" before. Some questions are open for all to participate and these become races to shout out the answer. The DVD wisely offers a tiebreaker feature should it be needed, though it can be annoying if the "nearest birthday wins" decider pops up too often. Hint: just bring this out once a year. It's not clear why this is a board game at all. Already the DVD explains the rules (mostly) and handles the lion's share of the questioning. Apparently the idea was just to let people know it really is a game – not just a viewing product – and probably to get it on the right store shelves. But it's also true that re-watching the best scenes from classics like Beauty and the Beast just makes one want to screen them again, or for the first time. Disney seems to be both leveraging existing assets as well as advertising product – very clever. This can work very well as a family game, especially if each team is a parent-child pair. Childless adults are at a distinct disadvantage, however, as they probably have not "seen it", unless they're lifelong Disney fans. It's clever too the way that the board can be folded up to provide a shorter track. Probably this is the better way to play, providing the half hour game that most party game players expect. The longer version can stretch to three times that. [Party Games]
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5 [Buy it at] [Spanish edition at]
Scene It: Friends Deluxe Edition
This DVD trivia game employs a board to track player success. Perhaps the most important fact to know about this one is that despite the large amounts of minutiae related to the popular TV program involved, there's also quite a bit of luck. The value of a question, for example, is given simply by die roll and thus has no correspondence to its difficulty level. A special die determines question type, some of them being presented on one of two DVDs and some from one of the two hundred cards – each of which contains three different questions – and some from other cards which are not questions at all, but events causing small track movements or lost or extra turns. Perhaps most controversial are the card questions labeled "Pop Culture" as they require knowledge of things never seen on the show, but of the people who participated in its making. Of the onscreen questions, there are several types and required skills include being able to unscramble a name, filling in a name on a crossword puzzle, identifying a costumed character whose head is blocked out, identifying a pair of characters who are heavily blurred or watching a scene and answering based on what you've heard (shades of third grade!). Notice that only a portion of this requires detailed Friends knowledge, which provides the product advantage that even non-aficianadoes have a decent chance to do well and have fun, but on the other hand, the people most likely to be buying this for themselves, the hardcore fans, may well be somewhat disappointed. A nice side benefit of the package though is that the question cards are useable on their own and can be a nice way to pass time on road trips. The game comes in a sturdy tin box. Six metal tokens depict a coffee cup, Joey's dog sculpture, etc., but they traverse a board which is amazingly made from cheap, corrugated cardboard. The cards are all right, but deserved more contrast between text and background colors in terms of legibility. The onscreen host is James Michael Tyler, the actor who played Gunther in 78 of the shows 238 episodes, but we never really see him, only hear his dulcet tones. [Party Games]
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5 [Buy it at]
Der Schatz des Pharaos
Note: the original Wolfgang Kramer card game was published in 1996, but the following only discusses the 2006 version,
Im Bann der Pyramide. "Under the Spell of the Pyramids" may be the first game from Adlung to be a re-published one, although there are apparently some small changes to the rules. Players respresent archaeological treasure hunters racing through a number of stages to a dead pharaoh's tomb. Each stage is represented by a card depicting the obstacle to overcome and each is more difficult than the last. Succeeding at a stage requires play of tools cards which come in four types: rope, ladder, pickaxe and torch. The difficulty is that at any moment only one type is playable and in general only one card may be played on a turn. But there are scarab cards permitting play of more than one card, magic cards that permit changing which type is playable at the moment, curse cards that destroy a tool of each other player and guard cards that protect against curses. There is also a single mummy which adds a minor extra difficulty to the player holding it. However, a player holding it may buy it off and cause it to go and scare a leading if the leader has reached the last stage. Game play is quite clean and generally fair. All players are likely to still be in the race by its ending and there can be plenty of tension in the ending. It does not overstay its welcome either. The main decisions are whether to draw two cards or trade out several for new cards and when to change the tool type, and what to change it too. While this is all right as far as it goes, the amount of decisionmaking is a bit light. On the other hand, this can work for children and also for Egypt enthusiasts. [Ancient Egypt games]
Der Schatz des Pharaos - Wolfgang Kramer; Berliner Spielkarten; 1996; 2-6
Im Bann der Pyramide - Wolfgang Kramer; Adlung; 2006; 2-5
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6 [Buy it at Adlung]
Schatzkiste (Treasure Chest)
This omnibus expansion kit includes rules and material to add to the following titles:
In the Year of the Dragon, Louis XIV, Notre Dame, Puerto Rico, San Juan, Wie Verhext/Witch's Brew. This is for the German edition. The American edition also adds materials for The Princes of Florence. Not all of these have been tried yet, but information on them will be filled in as they are.
alea-2009/Rio Grande Games-2009 []

Puerto Rico:
"The Nobles" expansion adds one large and quite a few small buildings plus red colonists called nobles, who work just like colonists do, except that when placed in the new small buildings they do something different than normal. This turns out to be annoyingly challenging since sometimes the player wants one function and sometimes the other and the chance to change them is somewhat unpredictable as it's only possible when the Mayor role is chosen. Players will need to get used to their new buildings which give an extra doubloon or VP during a particular phase, which can be difficult to remember. On the whole seems good as it changes up the usual considerations and tried-and-true things to do, adding delicious new dilemmas.
MHHH9 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 9)
Andreas Seyfarth; 2-5; 90

San Juan:
Included are a few dozen more building cards as well as some cards that can be one time new roles. The situation with the latter is that as soon as they are drawn they must be added to the menu of available roles. Once chosen – instead of a usual role – they are thrown to the discard pile. Although this expansion doesn't do harm, it doesn't really add all that much either; the game plays in pretty much the same way. One plus is that it requires less shuffling simply because there more cards in the deck. The flipside is that the deck is not traversed as quickly so there is less chance perhaps of finding that one desperately needed value six card because it takes so long to reshuffle. Another minus is that the new cards don't fit into the San Juan box unless tucked under the insert.
HMMM7 (Strategy: High; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7)
Andreas Seyfarth; 2-4; 45

Wie Verhext/Witch's Brew:
This already good game is made even better by the three expansions included here. First there is support for a sixth player which is good since this is one case in which "the more the merrier" applies. There are raven tiles that help in end of the game countdown, which are so indispensable that they really should have been provided in the original. There is also a deck of seventeen special ability cards from which each player chooses one of three at the start of each round. The advantage here is that they upset the usual course of things for experienced players and because the first player chooses from them first and passes the other cards downstream, they give a compensation for going first, which is otherwise the significantly worst position. [6-player Games]
MMHM7 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7)
Andreas Pelikan; 3-6; 45
Schicki Micki
Crowdbreaker game of fast recognition and quick action. Cards show a silly-looking clothed and umbrella'ed bird with accessories whose garish colors differ from card to card. The relationship between them determines which of four actions players should take as quickly as possible: grab the red pawn, grab one of the 3 blue pawns, knock on the table or do nothing at all. Doing the right thing first earns the cards, possibly sharing them with tied opponents, while doing the wrong costs a card. Germans can appreciate the humor of this game better than others as a Schiki Micki, probably derived from chic, describes a certain kind of woman, always fashionably dressed – usually in black – tending to be superficial, who flock to places just trying to be seen. Giving this name to the silly bird pictures on the cards is quite an amusing stretch. For its type, this game is above above average, featuring generously large pawns which are easy to grasp and having enough variance in the illustrations and matching rules that players do not all arrive at the conclusion at exactly the same time every time.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low
Schieber Jass
Trick-taking card game for partners. Not particularly satisfying rules permit players to break suit in order to trump, giving all the advantage to the fourth player on a trick. Thus, the number of trumps rather than the skill with which they are played becomes paramount. Rules by which the partners can try to communicate to decide what contract they wish to play are too primitive to bear interest. The ranking in the trump suit is annoyingly altered for no particular reason and the point values are inconvenient to sum at the end of the game. Strategically, the team which has the most and best trumps are best served to simply lead them early and flush out all those of the opposition. [summary] [Two vs. Two Games]
Schlangen von Delhi, Die
"The Snakes of Delhi" is of the "pipe connection" variety for up to four. From a secret hand of five tiles, players build on one of snakes which come in four colors, seeking to add to a long snake or terminate one either with a head or in a basket. Beneath the snake curves and straights there are tunnels leading in other directions which may be used by snakes not yet placed. The player's turn tends to be consumed by solving the immediate puzzle of the highest scoring play and basically never involves and long term strategy. However, the brightly-depicted snakes and the play materials are nicely-presented and the puzzles fun to solve, at least at first, so it can work well when for various reasons such as company, fatigue, etc. a lighter, less-demanding game is wanted. It does manage to avoid the strong negative nature of Iron Horse/Metro, but features too little of the planning which characterizes Linie 1/Streetcar. Rules are not the clearest. While there is some sympathy for the interpretion that no play may cut a snake off from possible legal conclusion, repeated play has indicated it that the real intent was not to have any bar on such.
Schmuggler an Bord
Ostensibly a game about smuggling, the actual operative expression is "memory game". Players take turns rolling a die to move the shared pawn. Should it land on an unclaimed artifact, it is revealed and the player claims it, face down. But if contraband associated with the space has already been claimed, he must identify its current holder. The accused may believe the item is held elsewhere and make his own accusation. This process can continue for a while until a loop is achieved, at which point the truth is revealed. A successful accusation earns the accuser the item while failure loses a chip. End scoring is based on both items and chips. The artifacts are well-made and depict a charmingly diverse set of bric-a-brac one might like to smuggle. The entire look of the game gives that warm, friendly Ravensburger feeling that has largely disappeared amid today's more vibrant, intense products. Some games turn out to be more in the playing than they would seem in the telling. This is true here as there is fun in the back and forth of the accusations – perhaps bluffing about the level of one's certitude – and also the challenge, perhaps, of finding creative mnemonic tricks along the way. This is true to some extent, anyway, though at the end of the day, this does not transcend the kids game genre.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5
Schnäppchen Jagd (Bargain Hunter)
Along with Ninety-Nine one of the best trick-taking card games for three. The game also works for four, but seems less satisfying. The ostensible theme is about collecting various merchandise items, toasters et al. A nice side-effect is that the totally-unrelated game, Schotten-Totten, may be played with exactly half the deck.
Uwe Rosenberg; 1998
Schoko & Co. (Ambition)
Features the tasty theme of Schokolade, i.e. chocolate. Nice presentation – one can almost smell and taste those bars being made. Players are less involved however with the details of manufacturing than those of personnel as one attempts the best way to allocate funds between sales, manufacturing and administration. Seems to require a certain amount of cooperation among at least some of the players. May be a bit too chaotic for some palates, especially due to the silent bidding for cocoa. Some complain that the game reminds them too much of real working life, perhaps a backhanded compliment.
Two-player Knizia card game with ostensible theme about resetting border stones in Scotland. Each player is trying to win some of the nine stones by placing a three-card best poker hand on their side of it. As hand size is limited and one doesn't know what cards will be drawn, makes for maddeningly delicious choices. The interesting strategy decision is whether to go for winning five of the nine contests by the end or whether to try for the immediate three-in-a-row knockout win. Considerable discussion has been waged over which of this game and Lost Cities is superior, but it seems rather pointless as both are quite good. The only real problem here is for the color-blind as the suits are differentiated by that means alone. Later re-done as Battleline with a new theme and a few additional rules. [Frequently Played]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 8
Schrille Stille
Amusing game of top 40 pop music radio hits. It has a strong element of trying to outguess one's opponents that is reminiscent of Basari. Two great assets of the game are a fancy wood and metal vote tabulator gadget and the amusing, parodic rock group names. The title ironically means "Strident Silence" and is also one of the group names in the game.
Friedemann Friese and Andrea Meyer game of memory and logical deduction. The two inventors continue to explore the seamy undersides of modern life, here the practice of "black work", the employment of moonlighting workers whose paychecks are hidden from tax authorities. This means each player is dealt two illegal workers whose identities he attempts to keep secret while divining those of his opponents. Each character, whose names are composites of well known game industry figures such as Maureen Moon (Maureen Hiron and Alan Moon), appears in the deck three times. Six of these cards are revealed and the player to the right must state how many of them are not his secret ones. By carefully paying attention to the answers and straining their memories to the utmost, players can eventually figure things out. If there is no character to thus identify, players can supplement their scores by choosing characters that they feel are innocent. The cards are fun to see and identify and the rules have been kept simply elegant. The memory element in games is objectionable to some, including me, but here is not so onerous to be discouraging. The most important factor for enjoyment are the personalities, not those on the cards, but the ones sitting at your table. If they're close-thinking concentrators, all should go well, but if your players are apt to leave the table for snacks, tell long stories and distract with jokes, this simply won't work at all. But logical deduction fans should be happy with this kind of Arbeit. [Bewitched Spiele]
Schwarze Pirat, Der: Das Duell (Pirates' Blast)
if no image probably out of print
This expansion kit for the children's game Der Schwarze Pirat (The Black Pirate) can also be played standalone by ages 5 and up. Included are two cardboard islands on which are placed two cannon pieces (wooden cylinders held horizontally on platforms). In the bay of each island is placed the owner's ship, a wooden platform with a cloth sail. Each player also has a rubber bellows which he blows behind the ship a number of times equal to the roll of a die. The goal is to reach the opponent's island, at which point a random treasure token is claimed. To prevent this, the opponent places a small cube at the end of his cannon and then uses the bellows to propel it out, aiming to hit the opponent's ship. Success in this sends the ship back to its starting point. All of the components are rather attractive and this action game can provide at least a little fun for all ages, even if tailing off rather quickly for most adults. While at first it seems the bellows should be directed at the sail, it seems to work better directed at the hull. [Pirate Games]
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5
Guido Hoffmann; HABA; 2007; 2 [Buy it at Amazon]
Stefan Dorra-designed game about the black market following World War II. A card demanding particular commodities such as coffee, butter, sugar, potatoes, etc. is played. Players in turn may satisfy these demands by playing goods cards from their hands, receiving cash payouts. The interesting dimension is that until a card is completely satisfied, a payout increases the size of a potential payout for the next player. Actually, if a player does not turn in any goods, he may increase the payout by an even larger amount, hoping that there will still be demand when it is again his turn. Thus there is a definite element of chicken and a need to calculate how well one is doing compared to others. Light and yet challenging fun. Probably works best for three good card counters. Title means "black market".
Stefan Dorra; Amigo Spiele; 1996; 3-5
Schweinsgalopp (Galloping Pigs)
A game for children 6 and up on a rare topic: pig racing. What is the goal of this race? Winning the most food of course. Not at all strenuous and sometimes subject to luck of the draw, but definitely containing challenging strategic considerations regardless of one's age. Rounded out by very cute and fairly large plastic pigs in various colors.
Scotland Yard
Several players are cooperating to capture the villainous Mr. X who is traveling around London via underground, boat, bus and subway. Essentially a two-player situation, there is still some interest for the team side in that they must put their heads together to solve a common problem in this game of logical deduction. They also need to consider the issue of what transportation modes they use as they are handed over to their opponent for his use. Mr. X is a very challenging position to play as well. As a rule, it appears that he escapes if there are three or fewer detectives and is caught if there are five. Overall enjoyable as a light outing. Strategically, players should find and pay careful attention to the various bottlenecks distributed around the board – the route through the park is only the most obvious one – as they become valuable escape routes which cannot be easily cut off. Re-published with a new map and slightly different rules as New York Chase (not described here). This idea has been continued in games such as Mister X, Garibaldi, Scotland Yard Swiss Edition and Letters from Whitechapel while games such as Mr. Jack are also related. [Spiel des Jahres Winner] [6-player Games]
LHML6 (Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6)
Manfred Burggraf, Dorothy Garrels, Wolf Hoermann & Fritz Ifland; Ravensburger-1983; 3-6 45 [Shop]
Probably the classic word game is actually not only about vocabulary, but strategy since the board has a definite geography in terms of double and triple letter and word spaces. Most expert players actually only form very short words which are limit severely the choices of opponents. Beware fanatics who have memorized every obscure two- and three-letter word in the Official Scrabble Player's Dictionary, an artifact of the game which tends to be a polarizing factor in its popularity. Invented 1931-2 by laid-off architect Alfred Butts who called it Lexico, its story is a salutory example of persistence in game development. The original had no board, tile racks were wall moldings and the original tile distribution was based on letter frequencies from the front page of the New York Times. The concept of connecting words to one another was only added half a dozen years later when Butts noticed the popularity of newspaper crossword puzzles. This version was called Criss-Cross and later Criss-Cross Words. In 1948 he worked with a venture capitalist who self-published it as Scrabble. By 1953 he could no longer keep up with demand and contracted with Selchow & Righter to manufacture the game boards, which eventually bought the property outright in 1971. Later the company was acquired by Coleco which was acquired by Hasbro. An interesting-looking book on the culture of the game is Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble by NPR commentator Stefan Fatsis. [10 Most Famous Board Games] [Buy it at Amazon]
Scrabble For Juniors
Version for players aged 6-12 features a double-sided board. The introductory version resembles more a crossword puzzle in which all the possible words have already been spelled out. This is an aid to learning about spelling. Points are earned by completing words. The reverse side is an entirely blank grid, leaving players to come up with their own words. A point is earned for each letter placed. Letters are formed from cardboard tiles and do not have values. [Buy it at Amazon]
Scream Machine
Delightful card game of competing American amusement park operators. Take turns building up your park in up to seven different areas from rollercoasters and kiddie ries to nostalgia and gourmanderie. Or build down to bring in the cheapskate crowd. About half the customers are willing to travel anywhere while the rest will only visit nearby parks, thus giving each player a unique problem to synthesize into the general picture. Completes quite quickly – twenty minutes should suffice – but far from mindlessly. Artwork by Nodwick illustrator Aaron Williams tries to bridge the art-functionality gap, but ends a bit more on the former. The made-in-Europe cards are nice and sturdy. Fans of quick, yet perplexing vehicles like For Sale should enjoy this one. Congratulations to Joe Huber on his first publication and kudos to Jolly Roger Games for going in this direction are in order. Includes German instructions. [Holiday List 2003]
Scripts and Scribes
While the ostensible theme is of medieval monks competing to assemble the best collection of books, this is easily summed up as a draft-plus-auction-with-majority-control card affair. In the first half players take turns drawing cards from the deck. One card may be claimed, one placed in the auction for later and the rest put into the pool which the others will draft from. When the deck runs out, one by one the cards in the auction pile are auctioned off using the gold cards that players have acquired. The aim is to collect majorities in some of the five categories of other cards. The value of each majority is given by a die each, which can be incremented or decremented by one via a sixth type of card, the bishop. With so few rules, play is clean and fast, with interesting decisionmaking in the first half. The second half can be a bit of a blind affair, however, as no one knows who has acquired what in their private draws. For example, in one game no red cards showed up in the draft pool, most of them having been claimed privately. Without any idea of how the cards had been distributed, bidding became rather senseless. Physically, the cards are of very good quality, but their artwork appears to be deliberately ugly, presumably to reflect the medieval era. There is an art to achieving this effect, of being ugly and beautiful at the same time. It was a success in Njet,, but less so here. More seriously perhaps, two of the card types resemble one another too much and several of them are hard to match up with their dice places on the small board. Actually it's not clear why there is a board as its function could easily have been served by just adding five more cards. The dice are not really needed either as these cards could have had different numbers at each edge and just been rotated to show the current values. By employing corners as well as sides, eight different values could have been indicated instead of just six. Another oddity is that some of the suits have only very small card values while the rest have relatively larger ones. Other than mess up first time players, it's not clear what purpose this serves. If variability is desireable, then why not take it all the way. Let one suit be all the same values, another all different values, another all medium-sized with one large one, another pairs of values (1,1,2,2,3,3), etc. Though play is quick and smooth, the system isn't very rich and there aren't really any new features here. With better artwork this could be a reasonable gateway effort. Originally published as Scriptorium, but changed when another game with this title was discovered, the components still bear the original title.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5
Steve Finn; Doctor Finn's Card Company; 2008; 2-4
6 Nimmt! (Take 6)
Card game by Wolfgang Kramer and Klaus Palesch. The literal translation of the title is "Six Takes" which describes what happens in this game of avoiding cards, especially cards which have a lot of bulls on them (why bulls?): the sixth player on a pile takes them all. Although the game can take up to ten players does not mean it plays well that way. For a non-random game with some interesting strategy and prediction, play with four or fewer. Very light, the ideas in this game were taken further in Hornochsen. [6-player Games]
6 Tage Rennen
"6 Days Race" is another bicycle racing depiction, a theme more popular than one might expect, although perhaps not from a European perspective. Other titles include Breaking Away and Um Reifenbreite. Here players begin with identical decks of movement cards. The interesting mechanism is that if one can move so that exact count lands on the same space as another player, the number of movement points are doubled. This leads to a number of interesting mathematical possibilities. Players may cooperate, for example. Or if they do not wish to, must consider not only getting ahead, but what opportunity to get ahead they are giving away. This is a game which really needs a lot of players to work well. I have even played with seven which worked quite well. [Cycle Racing Games] [6-player Games]
Walter Toncar; Holtmann VIP; 1986; 3-8
Personal Rating: 8
Sechsstädtebund (League of Six)
In the scary medieval days of war and robber barons six Polish towns band together for their mutual protection and commercial benefit. A century later tax collectors are sent to these towns to get as much as they can and thereby earn influence. This is the role the players accept. In the first half of play they participate in a multi-multi auction (as in Vegas Showdown), but with a double twist. First, a player who outbids another refunds the loser's outlay. Second, travel to another city, i.e. another auction, must be paid for. What's available at each town is more or less random since its profits are arranged around six sides of a hexagon. Each round a hexagonal tile is drawn for each of these spots. The tile's illustration shows anywhere from two to five sides that are activated. The player winning the auction orients the tile as he likes to earn horses, jewels in various colors, bidding cards and cards which form a set collection contest for the end (serving mainly to cloud the identity of the leader). In the second half of a round players act in most horses to least horses order. On offer are what are essentially ten contracts. Half provide victory points, the rest cards for the set collection game. A player chooses a contract and then places on it any of the jewels its calls for from his own supply. This is a good idea since these placements give points in and of themselves. Then, going around the table, the other players must fill in the remainder of the contract as well as they can. If the contract is thus completed, the initiating player receives the main reward. This is a game which looks attractive, has plenty of bits and plays cleanly without annoying exceptions. But who is playing, the players or the game? Considering the random nature of the second half, e.g. the number of jewels and horses players will have, how can any sensible evaluation be made at the auction? It's only the most important type of decision in the game. There's also little to no telling where one will be seated during the second half and since far from the fast horses is a blessing and close to them a curse, it matters not a little. Finally, despite the elaborate thematic build up recounted at the start, at no point do the player activities feel anything like what they're meant to represent. [Multi-multi Games]
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5
Vladimír Suchý Czech Games Edition-2007; 3-5 [Buy it at Amazon]
Seidenstraße, Die
Game about a medieval Silk Road journey from China to Venice driven by cardplay. Interesting idea around benefits of cooperating caravans does not seem fully-developed as the feature cannot be used consistently. Luck of the draw also plays a larger role than one might wish, especially as the number of players grows. For example, in a five player game, the deck is only about one and a quarter used. Dimensions of strategy and lookahead are present however, particularly in hand management. Components, artwork and flavor are noticeably better than average. [6-player Games] [Silk Road Games]
Hartmut Kommerell; Schmidt; 1998; 2-7
In this one you hold a hand of 4-5 normal playing cards and use them to try to be the first to construct a line of 5 in tic-tac-toe fashion on the board where all the cards are represented twice. There are rules which allow you to play on your own or in teams. Jacks are wild and so can be very useful. Jacks may have some other special function as well – I don't quite recall. Holding only 5 cards, it's quite difficult to plan any kind of long-term strategy that will get you to your goal as no doubt the 5 you have won't come anywhere near making a line (or sequence). It may be useful for stopping other players' sequences though, but of course stopping a sequence is not trivial since even though you've blocked one end of it, they can build on the other end, unless they've built on the edge of the board. So one gets a lot of cooperative stopping. It seems like the winner is eventually someone who gets lucky by having just the right card or gets enough Jacks, although you might hope to be building a line which nobody else notices – maybe a play which looked like a stop was actually a crucial link in tricky-to-see diagonal sequence for which you or your partner just happen to have the necessary final card. The game requires some attention to what is going on, but not all that much thinking. [Two vs. Two Games] [Buy it at Amazon]
7 Wonders
Everybody seems to love the seven wonders of the world so it's surprising that no previous game has been a big success with this topic, though
Tower of Babel was in a similar, if less precise space. This is a card passing game using the mechanism previously seen in Die Sieben Weisen (2002), Fairy Tale (2004) and Notre Dame (2007), in which players choose one card from those in hand and pass the rest to the next player. Here the attractively-illustrated, extra large cards come in several flavors. Production cards generate one or two of seven types of resources and are generally free to play. For those unable or unwilling to produce there are market cards which permit purchasing resources from one or both of one's neighbors at reduced cost. There are monument cards which mainly provide points, but also make acquisition of one other type of later monument free to earn even more points. There are military cards, usually expensive, which are compares to those of neighbors with victory point rewards going to the larger army. There are science cards which score points in a multiplicative set collection scheme and which also provide free acquisitions for later science cards. Finally there are guild cards – the only case where only an unknown subset is included – which give points the way that the large buildings in Puerto Rico do, e.g. points for having money, depending on the number of cards of a type or on neighbors having a number of cards of a type, etc. There are three rounds over which hands of cards are passed until only two cards remain, thus leaving no automatic choice, the final card going to the discard pile. As for the wonders, each player has a small personal board depicting one of them as well as three levels players can build by placing a card face down at the level instead of playing it as usual. This mechanism provides a handy way of killing a card that one wants to keep from an opponent and yet is not of use personally. Each level of course provides some special advantage and all of the personal boards differ substantially from one another. In addition each has a different version of the wonder on the back to provide more variation. The iconic language on the cards and boards avoids text, but is often not very clear. It's time that games start providing more player aides than just those provided in the rules for such cases, but one good thing about this game is that if you don't understand a card, it's always possible to ask the player who just passed it to you. Card passing is a very private activity in that nobody else can really see or comment on the decision being made until after the fact. Probably this is why there can be so much variability in results. Sitting next to a player carefully playing defense will give noticeably lower scores than will sitting next to someone who plays only to maximize their own points. The game tries to address this by changing the passing direction for one round, but the effect is minimal. Thus there's a certain fragility here if all players are not at similar skill levels; unfortunately this is likely to occur since the game only takes a half hour and is seen as easy to learn and thus of interest to a rather large number of players. Good players are probably looking not just at their neighbors, but also two or three players downstream, but many barely even pay attention to what the neighbor is doing. There are certainly starkly different strategic paths here and the ability to change direction as well. Strangely though, it never has the thematic feeling one would expect, partly because there isn't a strong connection between a wonder and the powers it offers; instead measuring between the best card one could use vs. the worst card the opponent could get is the all-consuming thought. [Spiel des Jahres award] [6-player Games] [Frequently Played]
HLMM6 (Strategy: High; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6)
Antoine Bauza; Repos Production-2010/Asmodee-2010; 2-7; 30 []
Shadows Over Camelot
Cooperative game with a twist for up to seven in an Arthurian setting. The twist is that one of the players might secretly be a traitor, hoping to undermine all the tasks others strive for and thus become sole winner. The tension and considerations implicit in this simple rule at last realize the potential inherent in Knizia's The Lord of the Rings. Here also players hold private cards. They are slightly less forced together as they try to complete various quests, some solo. Either they quest for artifacts such as Excalibur or the Holy Grail or they defeat foes as varied as the black knight, Lancelot, Saxons, Picts or a dragon. (Despite Monty Python's famous movie and musical, it's all played straight – we need James Ernest to supply the satirical version. Nor is it the more historical Sarmatian version as seen in the most recent film.) Each character takes his name from the mythos and has a special power, as well as life points. If enough tasks are achieved, all, save the traitor, win. There are several very fine balancing acts in the design, e.g. the "good" deck vs. the "bad" deck, the difficulty of a task vs. its reward, and even the typical choice offered by many special cards: play for yourself to big advantage or play on others to only their benefit. Most importantly of all, enough latitude is given the traitor – not every playing will necessarily even have one – to secretly subvert matters without necessarily appearing to do so. Everything tends to work quite well as far as it goes, although it would have been nice to see a greater departure from the Knizian system. Although it doesn't happen too often, it doesn't seem right that a character's dying knocks that player out of the game and out of the fun. Similarly, a revealed traitor doesn't have many interesting choices. Circumstances might have become even more exciting and challenging if all players had more reason to behave as a traitor sometimes, and if there were only a single winner in all cases. It's also possible for some boredom to ensue when the traitor is revealed and the best remaining strategy is to deliberately let tasks fail. The seriousness of these complaints may depend on how much of The Lord of the Rings you've played ... It is all done in gorgeous Days of Wonder artwork, complete with individual plastic figures of each knight, plus the grail, Excalibur and plenty of Saxons and Picts. A separate Sir Bedivere expansion ("Tell me again, Sir Bedivere how sheep bladders may be employed to ...") is also available – he seems to make a very good traitor by the way. Check this out if theme is important to you and less so otherwise. But I suspect most will enjoy at least one or two playings, even if some will miss the heavy calculating other games require. My only question is to wonder what happened to the fair ladies? Morgan le Fay, Vivien and an evil Guinevere are present, but strangely there aren't even cards for the damsels who probably inspired these heavy metal artists in the first place. [6-player Games] [Frequently Played]
Bruno Cathala & Serge Laget; Days of Wonder; 2005; 3-8
Strategy: High; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7
Shadows Over Camelot: Merlin's Company (Schatten über Camelot: Merlins Macht; Les Chevaliers de la Table Ronde - La compagnie de Merlin)(
if no image probably out of print
The first true expansion kit for the Shadows Over Camelot does not add any boards, but has plenty else to offer. First of all there's Merlin himself, a new plastic figure and one who decides on his own whether to accompany a knight on a quest or return home. This occurs by means of new cards which must now be drawn every time a knight travels. Good or bad things can also occur on these cards, even becoming entrapped until a friend is willing to rescue. Merlin helps by giving his companions white cards from the deck, which helps to offset the nasty travel cards and also the new black cards which can seriously hamstring the knights. The most interesting and dramatic addition is the possibility of having two traitors at once; the problem of their detection being added to that of their having to detect one another. Also fun are alternate versions for seven knights and the Sir Bedivere figure for any who might have missed him in the previous expansion. Those who already have him can now use both orange knights in one playing. This expansion is not intended to change your mind about the original, but is rather more of the same, and as beautifully produced as ever.
Bruno Cathala & Serge Laget; Days of Wonder; 2008; 3-8
Strategy: High; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7 [Buy it at Amazon]
This two-player game by Michael Schacht and Roman Pelek (Santiago) covers an unusual topic which nevertheless has been visited before in the game Halunken und Spelunken: the shanghaiing of sailors. This is another of those games featuring a line drawn between the players (Schotten-totten, Babel, Roma, etc.), here formed by six randomly drawn cards. Each shows a sailor having one of the various values in one of several colors, or a special "dirty tricks" card. A player rolls two of his six dice and assigns one to the correspondingly numbered position. Then the opponent does the same. Any time a player has at least two dice assigned, he may call "shanghai" instead of rolling and end the round. When he is down to just one die, he must do so. At this time players receive the cards where they have the most pips. Tied cards are resolved by the pips on neighboring cards which can create cascading situations and tricky placement decisions. Once claimed, dirty tricks cards offer special abilities such as re-rolling, adjusting a result by 1 or use of a card as a low-valued wild card sailor. Scoring itself is a chancy business. What one wants is a monopoly in a particular color as then all of its points score. However, if the opponent has even one point in a color, the player having fewer points gets nothing, but the winner gets only the points that had been held by the loser. Thus, attention then should turn to colors where the opponents are closely matched. Obviously this is a highly tactical situation, but there are some strategic considerations as well, particularly over the question of whether or not to pursue the dirty tricks cards early. Thematically it's unclear why scoring works the way that it does, but on the other hand an entire playing lasts just twenty minutes which doesn't give enough time to worry about such matters. At the time of this writing two small expansions to add more cards have been web-published at Instructions are published in multiple languages as usual with games by Abacus.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7
Michael Schacht & Roman Pelek; Abacus; 2008; 2
Stock manipulation and speculation game similar to Acquire. Each turn the player rolls a pair of dice which tell which color stock gets a pawn placed on a grid and in which region the pawn must be placed. A stock is worth the number of pawns on the board, except that isolated ones don't count. There is strong incentive to increase the value of stocks because for doing this you receive money equal to the new value. But shareholders get money equal to the increment times the number of shares owned, which can be a disincentive. This is a bit unrealistic, but seems to work well as a game anyway. Selling shares is the third way to earn money. Like sharks, corporations can eat one another and another unrealism emerges: holders of the losing stock must pay instead of being paid and in fact their shares are worth less now. Perhaps the game should have chosen a different theme, but as a game it works quite well with a lot of back and forth unpredictability. Interestingly, Sid Sackson, the designer of Acquire reviewed this game and suggested variants: (1) change the bonus to 3 times the amount of the rise in the stock's price; (2) throw two numbered dice instead of one and if doubles are thrown, any zone can be chosen; (3) allow a player to place a marker connected to its own color and to another color so that each group has the same number of markers; the player can then choose which color to remove; (4) limit the size of a group to 5.
Second edition: The biggest change in the Ravensburger edition is the new board which creates a central area surrounded by just four others. The corresponding placement die has faces matching each of thse areas plus a wild card. The result is that it's far more likely that a player have a valid placement each turn, but in a way it's too bad as one can miss those weird, unwanted plays which somehow, sometimes surprisingly turn into significant developments. The stock market now is rather more predictable and large, monolithic stocks more likely, usually just one of them. This in turn can lead to an uncatchable leader if players are not careful or a little unlucky. Overall, the new edition appears to be a step backward except in two areas: clearer instructions and the fact that there is no shortage of play money. Unfortunately the second edition board is difficult to retrofit. [6-player Games]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High
H. Jean Vanaise; Flying Turtle Games-1987; 2-6; 90
Shear Panic
Innovative multi-player game about sheep(!), who are arranged in a grid which players have the ability to affect in various ways once per turn, usually by shifting a row, column or diagonal. Their goal is to get points for achieving particular positions of their own sheep, the goal changing through the four stages of play. Some positions relate to the relative locations of one's sheep to one another while others relate to their positions relative to the sheep dog or the shearer. Each player has an identical set of options, each of which can be used just once. Certain point levels on the scoring track, if hit exactly, trigger roll of a special die. These results usually instruct the current player to modify the grid in some restricted way. Players wishing to avoid too much randomness can usually avoid these spots, but usually it's not particularly draconian and does provide something of a catch-up mechanism. There are some concerns in this area – can initial setup and moves be too decisive? – but probably once players become sufficiently familiar they can easily work together to haul back a leader, especially when four are playing. The physical production is extremely attractive featuring the cutest possible three-dimensional plastic sheep mounted on square boards. There are similar pieces for the dog and shearer too. The options board is admirably internationalized, i.e. pictorial only, but unfortunately too cryptically so, which is really worse than having text. And it's a minor point, but I wonder that the sheep bases weren't made round as it would be easier when they all need to rotate. (Squares could be painted on the bases if it was necessary to make the grid more recognizable). Overall though, this is innovative, hits a great spot on the length/complexity/challenge scale and should be pretty accessible to most audiences.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7
Sherlock Holmes Card Game, The
Card game in which players attempt to get rid of their hands one card at a time, the model pioneered by Crazy Eights or Uno. Masterfully layered atop are the elements of a Holmesian story complete with Watson, Mycroft, Baker Street, Scotland Yard, hansom cabs, trips to the country, inspections, arrests, alibis, etc. The innovative rule for which cards may be played replaces the idea that cards must match by forcing play of a different type of card, in fact those displayed at the card bottom. The effect of this is to tell a story. For example, the investigation may start at Baker Street, take a train to the country, make an inspection, return to London, take a cab, or something like that, depending on what players choose to play. Meanwhile, there are villains about. Anytime one cannot play, a deck draw may yield one of the four evildoers. Since use of an alibi card forces everyone to pass a card to the left, it is likely that the location of one or more will be known which may permit someone to make a definitive accusation, if holding the right cards, and end the round. As one's card play choices may be one or even zero, play is sometimes lacking in options. At other times there are intelligent choices to be made such as which of several transportation modes to play depending on which locations are held or even more significantly, as players get close to going out, when to take a big chance on arresting someone, and which one. Card artwork is passable, but surpassed by the story element which is very well crafted. Fans of experience games will appreciate this one even if it lacks some of the strategic scope that will make others want to avoid it entirely. [variant] [6-player Games]
Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective (Sherlock Holmes Criminal Cabinet)
Ultimate deduction game places players in Holmes' London attempting to solve cases. Play is both very free form and analytical with a strong story element. The players read background information on the case as well as having available to them London telephone book and newspaper facsimiles. They then must decide what is the wisest angle to investigate, choosing from options like visit the coroner, the crime scene, talk to a possible suspect, etc. which is implemented by going to a specific book page and reading the results. When the detectives feel that they have answered all of the questions raised by the case, they check the answer and see how they did compared to Holmes, who is always extremely efficient. The level of information and historicity is quite amazing. The only downside is that once played cases are probably used up. This is addressed by a number of Holmesian supplements: The Mansion Murders, The Queen's Park Affair, Adventures by Gaslight (not standalone), West End Adventures. The system was also followed-on by Gumshoe and its expansion The Chinatown Caper which render the hardboiled mystery genre and are a bit more chaotic (sudden attacks from baddies can crop up) to reflect that. This system of games is very different. A typical game presents a finite series of options and the main challenge for the player is selecting the optimal one or ones. However, here the large number of options and resources and ways of using them can even mean that there are options the players do not even realize. For example, there is included a facsimile telephone book packed with information and it may depend on the player's ability to realize that one of these individual records leads to the information the player needs. Overall the result is a situation closer to real life than just about any other game described here. [Spiel des Jahres Winner] [6-player Games]
Card game ostensibly about being shipwrecked on a deserted island is in reality more of a standard card auction game. Players use an invariable hand of three Pass cards, two Stop cards and one Lightning Bolt to bid on a variety of weird items with differing victory point values and incomes. The innovative bidding system features players secretly making bids one card at a time. The more cards down the cheaper the item is. However, only players who have played a stop card may halt the bidding. At this time, any player whose last bid was the Lightning Bolt wins the card (and pays for it with nice amber-colored glass pieces). But if more than one player is showing the Bolt, then the auction winner is anyone who has played the Stop. But if there is more than one of these, than the other cards are examined and whoever has played the most Pass cards on the previous rounds wins. In a nice touch, players who are out of gold may re-use purchased cards as bidding material, a necessary rule as you may sometimes find yourself winning auctions without expecting it. The game goes until one player reaches a fixed number of victory points. Essentially this is Rock-Paper-Scissors made more interesting, but it's not all that clear that there is enough planning, or even meaningful bluffing, to make it worthwhile.
Light card game by Reinhard Staupe reminiscent of Take 6 and Hornochsen. By this point it's too easy to stoop to the old saws that "it stinks", etc. Actually, it's not bad. Here the entire deck of cards is ordered. A card is turned up. Players simultaneously place a card face down hoping to be the nearest card further in the sequence, scoring points equal to the distance. Or they play their "Shit!" card to draw a new card for their hand. Easy to explain, but not so easy to win. Does one try for small points here and there and try to build a strong hand? Or is one more tactical and attempt to get a few big scores when others are likely to be replenishing? Americans may not realize that such a title is not nearly as offensive in German culture where four-letter words do not have the same ability to shock.
Reinhard Staupe
The Japanese version of Chess has a few important differences such as that almost all pieces can promote and that captured pieces join the other side. A decent change of pace for abstract fans.
Shuó Míng
Although the ostensible theme is launching and landing aircraft, this is essentially yet another version of Pachisi. A little extra strategy is added by the addition of special movement between spaces of the same color. [rules]
Sieben Siegel, Die
Stefan Dorra's variant of the Oh Hell trick-taking card game employs the theme of the Seven Seals, although nowhere does the exact number of seven seals ever pertain to play. The idea is to constrict player freedom even more by forcing forecasts of not only the number of tricks to be taken, but also their color (the color of the card led or trump if it is used). Alternatively, one player can take the Saboteur and gain by forcing others to take tricks they did not subscribe. Ambiguous in the instructions is whether a zero bid may be made – my inference is that apart from the Saboteur they may not. Inventor and publisher are also unclear about whether the Saboteur should be worth 4 or 5 points as both rules are presented, one as a variant. Perhaps they should have simply settled on 4.5. The original Oh Hell, still a very good game, is characterized by large amounts of freedom and flexibility in achieving one's goal. Removing that freedom leads to play which consists mostly of rebellion against it, meager as the means may be. All one can really do is use trumps to fudge how a trick is counted or take the Saboteur and attempt to foil, or else take all of the tricks if others are sufficiently subscribed. On the other hand, if things go wrong for an early bidder who has no information to go on, they can go very wrong indeed without remedy. Maybe this Saboteur was meant to be the crowning joy of play, but as it really needs a special type of hand and choosing late in the round, it is not provided very reliably. This variant does not really supplant the original and neither is as much fun as Doris and Frank's Wimmüln, which diabolically forces hand cards to be used as bids.
Stefan Dorra;
Sieben Weisen, Die
The fantastical world of "The Seven Sages" features the witch, lady healer, priestess, mage, druid, seer and sage. As in Verräter, each round features a player drafting a role, in this case publicly. Then ensues a vague negotiation round in which each player must choose one side or the other so that they are more or less equal, followed by the competition in which players reveal cards appropriate to their role, or special cards which have unusual effects. The higher the card's point value, the more it swings the competition to the team's side, but playing two "1" cards is worth 10. The winning side take turns claiming crystal tokens on which are printed various amounts of victory points while the losers receive special cards. The first player to drop out draws five cards and passes three of them to the second player to drop out, etc. with the last player discarding three cards. Then the entire process is repeated. Intelligent considerations are present around choosing the role, the partners and which cards to pass. Formation of alliances, being out of the individual's complete control, can be problematic, especially when players are of unequal abilities as it's rather easy to unwittingly help a player who is doing well enough already. In the end the negotiation phase can come down to a real-time race which is not exactly conducive to reasoned play. Players who do not have German will need a cheat sheet to translate the special cards – fortunately there are only a few types (named in Latin). Overall, this is probably too much trouble for most to appreciate, but may appeal to RPG fans as a quickish romp.
Siedler Kartenspiel, Die (The Settlers of Catan Card Game)
The two-player card game version of Die Siedler von Catan is of some interest, but despite my being lucky enough to usually win, fails on the whole because of the deck-diving feature. Not only does this require a good memory, but while a player is trying to scrutinize for the best card in one of the five decks, the play experience stops completely dead for the opponent. [Buy it at Amazon]
Siedler von Catan, Die (The Settlers of Catan, Les Colons de Katan, De Kolonisten van Catan)
Brilliant, breakthrough Klaus Teuber design about the settlement and development of a new island. By use of randomly placed hex tiles, every game board and thus every game is different. Has at least three different strategies to pursue (roads and settlements, cities, cards). In addition, unless a player has placed poorly at the outset, no one is ever really out of the contest until the ending. The most frequent choice for introducing new players or for those times when no one can agree on what to play, the sheer elegance, intuitiveness and interactivity are simply not to be topped, at least not so far. Many of the published variants are quite entertaining as well, even better than many other standalone games, but the original remains the best overall, another proof of the perfect nature of the design. Try to tweak it in any direction at all and its ideal balance is disturbed. Regarding its inspirations, for centuries the German race have been colonizing from the south and west where it touched the Roman empire to the east, starting with development of the wild and inaccessible Black Forest and the continuing to the East. It seems like there is some kind of memory of this Drang Nach Osten process represented in this breakthrough design that always remains challenging. But whence comes this name "Catan" which has adorned so many different products and boxes? Strangely enough, it may have its genesis in a place as unexpected as television's Star Trek. In an episode of The Next Generation called "The Inner Light", Captain Picard is struck by a mysterious beam and wakes up to find himself on a planet called Catan. The episode premiered in 1992 while the game only in 1995 so the chronology does work. Ever wonder why the sun depicted on the Catan box is so huge? In the episode Catan is destroyed when its sun goes supernova. Moreover, in the episode (which happens to be one of the best in the series), Catan is a lost planet preserved only in dreams. What better way to describe the fictional world of the game could there be? On the other hand, in a February 28, 2001 interview, Teuber stated that the name came not from Star Trek, which he has not much seen (he prefers Star Wars), but from a list of twenty names from partner Reiner Müler. Of course the origins of this list are still unknown. [Spiel des Jahres Winner] [Holiday List 2002]
Strategy: High; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 10
Klaus Teuber; Frankh-Kosmos/Kosmos; 1995; 3-4 [Buy it at Amazon]
Siedler von Catan, Die - Burgbau auf Chaffenberch
The Burgbau auf Chaffenberch expansion for the The Settlers of Catan, referring to the construction of a castle in Chaffenberch (today Kapfenberg, Styria, Austria), includes a pre-printed board on a poster-sized sheet and a number of counters to be mounted on cardboard. The game is fundamentally the same, meaning not much relief for those who dislike the original, but includes a few additions and subtractions. Ports are gone and so is the largest army award. Instead of the former, each time a player builds a road he receives a traveling merchant chit which may be used on one subsequent turn to make as many 2-for-1 trades as desired in any resources desired (leading to some staggered building behavior). The other two additions are tournaments and castle-building. Tourneys occur whenever a knight (soldier) card is played. Each player strives to roll the highest die, adding in his shields, two of which are given to each player at the outset, and knights. The winner gives up a knight or shield (a balancing mechanism) and earns a victory point. Castle building confers a point for every three wall additions where an addition costs one hard resource (wood, brick or stone) and one soft (wool or wheat). Pictorially the castle wall is divided into three levels with costs increasing as it is filled. The player with the most additions earns one victory point. The scenario is slightly more fiddly because of the need to adjust points on a track, but because of the carefully-balanced board appears to be unusually fair, with games ending in very close scores. Of course, replay value is relatively restricted by the pre-printed map, but as one must own a copy of the original game anyway, it should be easy to randomly create new maps of twenty-three hexes. In terms of strategy, just as with virtually every other Catan variant, the new rules alter the means of scoring and not those of production. Although it's tempting to try the new methods right away, nothing succeeds like first improving the economic engine by making more settlements and cities. This game has been packaged together with Die Siedler von Catan - Renaissance in der Steiermark, which has a different map display on the poster's reverse side and was given away by the Austrian Game Museum at Essen 2007 to commemorate the inauguration of the 2007 Settlers of Catan Championship in Kapfenberg.
It is not an official scenario of Catan GmbH or Kosmos Verlag although these bodies did give permission for publication. It's unfortunate for Catan fans that no more are available – perhaps Kosmos will pick this up for re-publication.
Strategy: High; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 10
Heike Risthaus; Österreichische Spiele Museum; 2007; 3-4
Siedler von Catan, Die. Das Buch
The "Settlers Book" is half a book of fifteen scenarios plus additional variants and half a box of attractive special components. Overall, a treasure trove of various delights for Siedler fans. More games should try this format because it gets them into the bookstores and noticed by a wider audience. Below some notes on specific scenarios tried:
"Bermuda Dreieck": Unique features of the Bermuda Triangle scenario are the constantly sinking ships, the fact that ore is limited to the central island upon which no player begins and the ability to build costly bridges. As a result the scenario may go on rather long without anyone being able to achieve victory. Players may like to fix by granting 1 or 2 victory points for bridge construction.
"Die Sturmflut": The Flood scenario includes several special rounds at the end of the game during which players may for one brick and one wool build a dike to protect a tile from being flooded. The winner, with a lot of tension along the way, is the player with the most victory points after all the flooding has finished. The scenario seems quite balanced although the strategy of acquiring victory point cards which are never destroyed by flood is quite enhanced. Interesting dilemma in choosing build sites because those which will produce best are also most likely to be flooded.
"Die Kolonien": Interesting to speculate whether this Teuber-designed scenario with its quite different handling of ships represents his original conception of the way
Die Siedler von Catan Seefahrer would have worked. It certainly helps make the Pirate more sensible and a nice additional feature is that even if one has no cards to trade, at least there are your ships to move. May have a bit of a runaway leader problem. Strategically, players should not allow the glamor of overseas exploration to cause neglect in the development of the home island. The best of the scenarios in this book, at least so far.
"Catan-Express": While fun to have railroading going on, the scenario seems a bit underdeveloped, at least for five players. Cities are almost never built until the very end and yet everyone is stuck with plenty of clay which is nearly useless.
"Westwärts": Besides being potentially offensive to red Indians, doesn't really seem to work out very well as the accent shifts too strongly to luck. The nature of the setup and building must lead to feast or famine production whether the player wants it or not. Players are often wielding huge hands of cards by the end and for several turns. It seems that it may often come down to whichever one of them is able to most avoid having half of it discarded. The robber, here the Indian, is also denuded of much of its power and so there is a critically unfortunate reduction in ability to slow down the leader. All in the name of historicity I suppose, but historicity is not interesting enough to make up for such serious misfeatures.
"Das Grosse Rennen": In English, "The Great Race" is the only Kosmos-produced scenario recommended for two players (or more as well, of course). As there should probably be no trading, there is a great deal of mostly luck of the dice, although there are some interesting decisions to make along the way, particularly with respect to timing one's builds. In particular a bottleneck along the center of the course must be played judiciously. Contains unknown tiles to be discovered as well. Back to the problem side, the two-player setup has some labeling errors in the board collar and it is unclear from the rules whether opposing roads should be able to cross over one another.
"Die Spezialisten": "The Specialists" tends to lock players into a particular strategy and then leaves it to Fortuna to determine a winner. At least it can be a good training scenario for new players who may not be familiar with all the strategic paths available in the basic game. In the three-player scenario, it seems that the third player has too nice an advantage in placing two settlements on productive locations. This scenario later turns up in the game pack Atlantis: Szenarien & Varianten zu Die Siedler von Catan.
"Das Atoll": Another scenario heavily dominated by luck, particularly as there are almost no good building sites. Leavened only slightly by innovative clock-like movement for the pirate.
[Balloon Aviation Games] ["Ballonfahrer" translation] ["Das Grosse Rennen" translation] ["Die Kolonien" translation] [Buy it at Amazon]
Siedler von Catan Ergänzgungs-Set, Die (The Settlers of Catan – 5&6 Player Expansion)
The expansion kit for 5-6 players provides pieces for two more players and extra tiles. Playing this way is still just as good as long as the following rule is used: players are permitted to build at the end of each player's turn, but only if the active player builds. And these extra builds do not include port trades. A situation to be aware of is that this expansion contains extra cards for the raw materials and development decks. These cards ought to only be added when playing with 5-6 players and should be removed again when there are only 3 or 4. This situation is exacerbated in the Mayfair edition where the cards from this expansion have already been added to the basic game deck. For those wishing to properly remove these cards when playing only with 3 or 4, the cards to remove are five of each type of raw material, six Knights and one each of Monopoly, Breakthrough and Road Building. [6-player Games]
Siedler von Catan Historische Szenarien, Die
This is actually two specialized scenarios in one. "Cheops", set in Ancient Egypt complete with pyramid building, is flawed because in most games all players will lose to the game's ticking clock. To fix this, don't start building the pyramid until the first player does so. Strategically, it is vital that each player have a special trading port at the start of the game as unlike every other game of this series, a trading port is absolutely vital. "Alexandersschlacht" is possibly the most dramatic revision of all the series. Since players must bid for locations along the conquest route of Alexander the Great, this is actually an auction game. Be sure to note that the rules were meant to state that players begin with extra gold. Both scenarios are interesting changes of pace, but neither comes up to the level of the vanilla game, The Seafarers of Catan or even Die Siedler von Nürnberg versions. [Ancient Egypt games] [Buy it at Amazon]
Siedler von Catan Historische Szenarien II, Die
Two more historical scenarios, this time from China and ancient Troy.
"The Great Wall" casts each player as a guardian of a segment of the wall, trying to prevent the raids of steppe nomads. Because nomads inevitably seem to cross the wall somewhere, placing the other settlements far away from it seems a good idea. Interesting dilemma about whether to deliberately let them in just so that they deprive opponents of production. There is a lot of ore available on the fixed map, making the development card strategy look attractive, but this can be a trap because the value of the largest army award has been cut down to just one victory point and three victory point cards have been removed. One problem is that without the robber – the pirate only affects players with ports – it becomes a little too difficult to haul back a leader.
"Troy" spotlights the war of the Greeks and Trojans, each player secretly supporting one side or the other. While there are a number of interesting new twists such as special ships which confer points and advantages as well as the ongoing war to which each player contributes, players intending to win should never lose sight of the original game precepts they have learned over the years. The ability to block the expansion of others fleets offers additional challenges.
Overall, both scenarios constitute a very well-realized addition to the series, the main downside being that exactly either 4 or 6 players are required. Otherwise, both are so good that it is difficult to even prefer one over the other. [6-player Games] [Great Wall translation] [Troja errata] [Buy it at Amazon]
Siedler von Catan Seefahrer, Die (The Seafarers of Catan, De Zeevaarders van Catan)
The Seafarers addition to Die Siedler von Catan adds ships, gold tiles, more board layouts and the possibility of playing with undiscovered hexes, creating a fun exploration game. While a bit more chaotic than the original game, makes for a nice change of pace and a good deal of fun for exploration game fans. Unfortunately the pirate rules are ambiguously written and at least four different possible interpretations of what it steals are possible, requiring a discussion before every game. To make the pirate as significant as the robber, who after all totally shuts down production of a hex, I suggest that the pirate be allowed to steal one card per ship touching his hex. Since publication, Kosmos and also Mayfair have web-published an additional scenario including desert riders, volcanoes and jungles. While an interesting variation, the lack of the robber and general rather than specific dampening effects of the riders makes it more rather than less a game of luck as it is very difficult to do anything to hamper the person in the lead.
"Vier Inseln": The Four Islands scenario is fun for the chance to race first to the other islands, but also problematic in that each player's production is concentrated on just one hex tile. This means feast or famine depending on whether the robber happens be in the neighborhood, which given the difficulty in producing the right combination for development cards, becomes a matter of whoever is lucky enough to roll 7 most. [translation] [Pirate Games] [Holiday List 2002] [Buy it at Amazon]
Siedler von Catan Seefahrer Erweiterung, Die
The Seafarers expansion kit for 5-6 players provides rules for two more players and extra ship pieces. Playing this way is still just as good as long as the following rule is used: players are permitted to build at the end of each player's turn, but only if the active player builds. And these extra builds do not include port trades.
Siedler von Catan Städte und Ritter (Settlers of Catan Cities and Knights, Kolonisten van Catan Steden en Ridders)
The Cities and Knights addition to Die Siedler von Catan adds quite a lot of time and complication, but not much more interest. The fact that barbarian attacks can ruin everyone's day should add an extra Republic of Rome-esque dimension of the players needing to pull together, but the downside is that should they happen to fail, the entire game suffers, adding thirty to sixty minutes of desultory playing time. Also there are too many event cards with effects which are too strong and more importantly, too involved for players to know them all and this takes up a lot of unnecessary time as well. Unbelievably, there is even a 5-6 player expansion kit for this, meaning that players can become unbelievably bored waiting to do anything. [Buy it at Amazon]
Siedler von Catan Travel-Box, Die (The Settlers of Catan Portable Edition, The Compact Settlers of Catan)
Virtually identical to the original Die Siedler von Catan, except in a small edition. Apart from the robber, cards and dice, all of the plastic components are secured to the small board. Actually, the robber pawn could have been secured also had its base only been slighly wider. The bottom of the box is a handy tray which also provides a dice rolling area. Because the locations of the numbers are painted on fixed, protruding columns around which the hex tiles fit, one minor play change is that the desert must always be located in the center. The only real objection to the set, however, is that it hasn't appeared sooner. Akin to the paperback edition of the latest popular novel, this lower-cost version should help a lot with the problem of getting more folks introduced and addicted to this hobby. Now there's an English version too so that's even better! [Buy it at Amazon]
Siedler von Hessen, Die
This Settlers of Catan expansion kit is simply an illustrated poster. Shown is a more-or-less accurate rendering of the German region of Hesse (which includes Frankfurt) in the Catan style. There are about three minor departures from the usual system. One is that settlements may only be constructed on the named city sites. Another is that it's not allowed to build past one of these sites without first constructing the settlement. The third is that there are no trading ports, but building on specially marked road sites at the board edges provides the same functionality. The board features 23 number chits rather than the usual 18, but is longer and narrower. In addition in several places the usual adjacency rule is abandoned. While ore is plentiful, wood is a bit rare, which tends to lengthen duration as road building is important for sufficient expansion. Each city site shows a significant historical building – usually a castle or cathedral – and around the map are short paragraphs (in German) describing the population, history of the city and history of the building. It seems unfortunate that this scenario has been played so straight. Perhaps trade in the region developed in certain ways and there are particular historic thoroughfares which players might have gotten advantages for building? Without any new systems and with the fixed board's replayability so much less, there is really no point in having this unless one has a special interest in Hesse. Apparently similar posters are planned for other German regions; it remains to be seen whether they will be similarly unambitious.
Strategy: High; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7
Klaus Teuber; Kosmos; 2007; 3-4
Siedler von Nürnberg, Die
Problem: what does one do with a design that almost, but not quite works? Solution: tie it in with something that will make a niche market want it, e.g. fans of a novel, a movie or even better because there is no royalty, a city. The Settlers of Nuremberg version of Die Siedler von Catan commemorates the 950-year anniversary of its establishment as an Imperial City. It changes the road competition to five roads and adds an entirely new level of purchasing via the operations within the city of Nuremberg itself. It uses a card deck rather than dice for all of those players who have wailed about dice for all these years. Personally the dice have never bothered me and they could still be employed here if desired. There is considerable interest, but with the downside that if one is unlucky with the robber baron sitting on animportant location for a long time, there is no longer the possibility of purchasing a Knight to drive him off. There is also the problem with falling behind early as the handling of the office cards makes it impossible to catch up.
Multi-player game set in the Renaissance city of Siena, Italy. The extra long board depicts a period painting now hanging in the city hall under the title "The Effects of Good Government". Therein are seen peasants, merchants and bankers behaving in happy prosperity. Not included at all is its companion piece in what was originally a political statement: "The Effects of Bad Government", in which can be seen poverty, voiolence and deviltry in a dramatic form that even the illiterate could read. Anyway, there is a slight role-playing feel to the proceedings as a player begins a peasant, decides when to become a merchant and later when to become a banker. All steps are explicitly necessary – only a banker can secure victory. A turn is conducted primarily in common, but in its last stage the player performs actions particular to his role. The peasant plays cards to generate agricultural produce in four types, for which he is paid if the amount reaches a certain threshhold. The merchant does similar things with one of two types of luxury goods and also has the option of buying victory points in the form of two randomly-drawn cards, one of which he decides to keep. A banker moves his pawn around the city portion of the painting, trying to gain money and points and avoiding the things that cost him. A couple of strange things stand out. They are more odd than wrong, but raise the question of whether more game development was warranted. First, from turn 1 players often draft cards which are in no way useful to them until the banker phase, much later. They either hold these, if they can afford to do so, or play them, leading to, for example, a large buildup of courtesans in the city. Is all of this activity really able to be meaningful or is it just lengthening an already long outing? By fixing it, could often meaninginles draft rounds be made more interesting as well? The second odditity is around the rule that the player with the least money gets to go first. The theory is good, but in practice the context makes it a shambles. Early on the value of going first is so much greater than the actual cards that players should take whatever is costliest to ensure this – clearly a case of a "catch up rule" gone wild. Later players are in different roles which have totally different cash situations. It's rare for a banker to have much cash, for example, because he has it invested in points. Yet his advanced status is rewarded against others who are yet trailing. Since usually such players want to draft different kinds of cards, it's not a major problem, but remains odd and may represent an untapped opportunity. It's hard to find any definite strategy to the game apart from the advice "timing is important so be flexible and always prepared. But even this may over shoot the mark as what seems most important is to become a wealthy merchant as soon as possible, buy all the victory point cards one can and then get in on the victory point auctions. Without doing this, other strategies, e.g. staying a wealthy peasant and winning the card auctions, don't seem to have a chance of earning enough points. The game looks great and makes for a pleasant feeling – well there is a bit of "take that!" in the banking area. However, it can also stretch into three or more hours. Nor are the instructions easy to comprehend at first glance. It manages to be just pretty and mysterious enough to invite replays, but for most these will probably terminate with the conclusion that the most important skill is luck of the draw with the victory point cards and this is too long for a game that's only that. Games of the Italian Renaissance]
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High
Interesting abstract for up to four players. Since the game is about sunshine, roofs and lengthening shadows, not entirely devoid of theme either! I like this more than most abstracts. The English rules can be a bit confusing and our first game was played with the wrong rules. Strangely, I ended liking the wrong rules better.
Fans of Basari will probably find something to like here from perspective of gameplay and art/components in this game about mining ("Silver Dwarf"). The rest of the game feels essentially like a train or railroad game as players struggle to fulfill contracts as quickly as possible to earn large profits. There is also a rock-paper-scissors mechanism going on as players make allocations behind a screen, including some which can significantly harm the fortunes of their opponents. Luck of the draw in private contracts seems to play a very large role, particularly since the high point contracts are all one color and probably easier to satisfy (just allocate everything to one color). I would suggest making all contracts public, but to borrow from the world of Empire Builder games, lock in up to two which they are going for in advance, i.e before the secret allocations. Even without these changes, the game flows quite smoothly, if a tad bit long. Even though the game is really won by efficiently fulfilling contracts, don't miss the final game turn tactic of selling off your remaining gems for big profits.
Railroading and mining in the Colorado Territory of the 19th century. Very historical and realistic without ever becoming drab. The original self-published edition by Two Wolf also had the very good Silverton New Mexico Expansion. The Mayfair edition looks nicer and includes all of the expansion material. but may be a bit less balanced as Cripple Creek (and other productive gold mines) have become even more powerful. Prices to acquire passenger routes are no longer tied to length of track, but are flat fees. This game vs. simulation issue is probably all right since building a longer track already incurs a penalty and there is no particular need for an additional one. Either edition still has plenty of decisionmaking in three main areas: when to sell in light of what others will do, how quickly and in which directions to expand and whether to pursue mostly mines or passengers. Because cash is tight, all three factors impinge on one another. Graphically, the Mayfair board is a rather crowded situation. The single best improvement is that the mine cards contain guides to their corresponding map locations (rendering unnecessary four of the links below). The new price chart appears to be little more than a photocopied piece of paper which is only strange if one cares about this sort of thing. Overall, one of the best available for railroading fans, but needs players with the stomach for a longer game and plenty of dice rolling (for mine productivity). Recommend that players conduct most phases simultaneously in order to save time. [6-player Games] [scenario summary] [variant] [accounting chart] [mines by value] mines alphabetical [mines by region] [combined list of mines] [Frequently Played]
Gadget game/toy in which the player is shown an apparently random sequence of sounds and lights. To win the player presses these lights in the exact same sequence. The reward for success is a more difficult sequence, and so on. Perhaps a means of improving memory, but obviouly entirely devoid of strategy considerations.
The game is set in the world of the seven voyages of Sindbad from A Thousand Nights and a Night. Each player plays an incarnation of Sindbad and by way of sea voyages tries to amass a fortune of one million miskhals by way of trade, treasure, and adventure and return safely to Basra. Included are illustrations of exotic creatures, characters and settings, exotic valuable trade goods and the concept of telling stories reminiscent of the classic A Thousand Nights and One Night. The game has more strategy and tactics than its artwork and reputation would seem to indicate. Can be a fun romp for a gaming group when it is not taking itself too seriously. By the way, some theorize that the real Sindbad may have been a Chinese sailor. [Traveling Merchant Games] [Silk Road Games] Get Sindbad the Film at Amazon
Alex Randolph invention on the unusual topic of ant life is actually a pure abstract in which luck plays no part. It is one of building a continuous chain of markers and a few connected anthills. As in Quoridor or Twixt, the players are at immediate cross purposes as the chains they need to build are in the way of one another, although some limited intersection ability is permitted. It is difficult to convey the feeling of one's first game which may become quite frustrating as one's moves are immediately countered over and over by competitors, but by the eventual outcome, things will no longer seem quite so impossible and players will be able to open up their appreciation for this system. Pieces are small plastic caps with painted-on ants while hills are nice mushroom-shaped objects. Title is an African term for a type of ant hill that has come to stand in for the word in a German context. Offhand thought: this board would make a nice play area for another Randolph production, Würmeln, which in play it also sometimes resembles.
Alex Randolph; 1996
6 Billion
"Third generation" game which deserves high marks for incorporating both the ideas of simulation and German-style play mechanics. Kudos are also deserved for taking on a topic which is entirely sui generis, the Earth's population bomb and possible near future colonization of the solar system. As a third generation effort, some sacrifices are made on either side. Some on the simulation side include that populations require holding the right card to migrate; war is extremely abstracted; there is an arbitrary turn order (not simultaneous); hidden agendas (in reality they would be quite public); etc. On the game side, compromises include that the existing solar system is preserved even though it may not be an ideal set up (distant Pluto should be worth more rather than less for example); realistic rather than balanced planetary distances are used; players begin not from the center, but from Sol-3; planets pay off based on size rather than difficulty; etc. Overall it makes for a very interesting offering, but be warned, like the perfect planet, it will take some finding. Given that the outer planets do not have room to fit the orbital scheme anyway, I would have done the graphic design differently. The cards need to have less small print and explain better what they do. It is particularly easy to not notice that a card is to be removed from the game after play. Or make such cards not part of the hand proper. The rules, even in the second edition, constitute the second major obstacle for new players. Instead of motivating up front some general idea of what the player should be trying to do, they discuss background material for quite a while, which is interesting but would be better left to the end. Once players manage to understand what is going on, gameplay works well in general, turns being fairly short, although some may object to the nature of cancellation cards. Such cards in any game are problematic because of determining who is first to play such a card when more than one wishes to, because of difficulty deciding when the time to play such a card has expired, the possibility that some player is not paying attention, etc. It might have been preferable to create a definite sequence à la Kill Dr. Lucky for the play of such cards, or even better, jettison the idea of cancellation and instead turn them into "reversal" cards to be played instead on the cancelling player's turn. There is a quite a bit of luck in the game, perhaps a bit much for one which lasts two hours. In particular, there is luck in the all-important turn order which is only partly addressable (I might have preferred a more explicit auction for this) and in drawing doubling cards during the first third of the game (sometimes addressable by a player churning his hand as rapidly as possible). Strategically there appear to be at least a couple strategies, one to try to expand as far and fast as possible, the other not to do so, but to gain points by playing cards for others and also retain control of the neutrals and use them to bollix the plans of opponents. Most likely to be successful is a judicious combination with special concentration on one's agenda and discoveries. Overall, as in Die Macher, is very much rewarded by having at the table a group of experienced players who are used to the board and all capable of divining what opponents are up to and making the right, precise moves to counteract them. Optional rules are probably a bit much for the first playing as they add even more uncertainty, but on the other hand may be a good idea anyway lest some players feel there are too few trade-offs in the game and not wish to play again. [6-player Games]
David Coutts; Board Not Bored-1999; 2-6
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